Why did the eternal God have to come to this sinful earth, assume a human body, and die at the hands of Roman executioners?
“Wait a minute!” you say. “God did not have to do this — He chose to do it!”
This is true — right?
Jesus said, “No man takes my life from me. I lay it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). The point is well taken. The Lord Jesus chose to lay down His life!
But did He have to do this in oder to save us from our sins? And if He did, why?
The question I am asking has to do with the purpose of Christ’s death. Why did Christ die? A number of answers have been proposed.
- Some say it was all an unfortunate misunderstanding. Jesus was actually a good man with good intentions but He was misunderstood.
- Others say that His death was not required by God but was the means God chose to manifest His love. It was intended to morally influence people with God’s love.
- Still others say that it was an example of self-sacrifice as a divine revelation to stir people to live better lives.
A major point behind these views is that the death of Christ was not necessary to satisfy the demands of the righteous judgment of God on sinners (contra. Luke 24:26; Hebrews 2:10, 8:3, 9:22-24). Let the words of Galatians 2:21 sink deeply into our hearts: “…if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
Centuries prior to the coming of Jesus, Isaiah the prophet prophesied of the purpose of His suffering and death. Notice the number of references to the purpose of Jesus’ suffering and death:
“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppressionand judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledgemy righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53).
A theme of our songs:
Hymn writer, Isaac Watts asked, “’Was it for crimes that I had done?’ he groaned upon the tree…” Another song writer stated it clearly, “He took my sins and my sorrows; He made them His very own.” Charles Wesley wrote: “Died He for me who caused His pain; for me, who Him to death pursued.”
For God to maintain His justice and wrath toward sin, and to declare sinners to be forgiven, the punishment that sin justly deserved had to be paid. Jesus took the penalty willingly upon Himself as a gift of God’s love. Many passages of Scripture emphasize this truth: 1 John 4:10, Colossians 1:19-20, Galatians 2:20, Romans 3:19-28, Galatians 3:13, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, 1 John 2:1-2, 1 Peter 2:24 and 3:18; Hebrews 2:9, John 3:16-17, John 1:29; Revelation 1:5.
Jesus paid it all:
One Sunday morning, in 1865, a woman by the name of Elvina Hall was listening to her pastor’s sermon while seated in the choir loft in a church in Baltimore, Maryland. As the pastor began to speak of God’s forgiveness and love, her mind began to dwell on that theme. In her words, she “began thinking about all that Christ has already done to provide our redemption.” And being captured with this thought, Mrs. Hall began to formulate a little poem. Lacking paper at the time, she began to write it on the flyleaf of her hymnal.
After the service, she was a little afraid that the pastor would be angry with her for not listening to his sermon and for writing the poem in the hymnal. But she decided to confess this to him and ask what he thought of her little poem. The pastor was delighted with the poem and told her that several days earlier the organist had put together a new tune that might fit the poem. The organist who composed the tune, a man by the name of John T. Grape, was a successful coal merchant in Baltimore and an active lay worker in the church for many years. His tune matched beautifully with Mrs. Hall’s poem and resulted in a great hymn.
Written in 1865 by Elvina Hall on the flyleaf of a hymnal:
- I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small! Child of weakness, watch and pray, Find in Me thine all in all.”
- Lord, now indeed I find Thy pow’r, and Thine alone, Can change the leper’s spots And melt the heart of stone.
- For nothing good have I Whereby Thy grace to claim—I’ll wash my garments white In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.
- And when before the throne I stand in Him complete, “Jesus died my soul to save,” My lips shall still repeat.
Chorus: Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain—He washed it white as snow.
“Christians have always measured sin, in part, by the suffering needed to atone for it. The ripping and writhing of a body on a cross, the bizarre metaphysical maneuver of using death to defeat death, the urgency of the summons to human beings to ally themselves with the events of Christ and with the person of these events, and then to make that person and those events the center of their lives — these things tell us that the main human trouble is desperately difficult to fix, even for God, and that sin is the longest-running of human emergencies.” (Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be, Cornelius Plantinga, p. 5)
“This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). “…it was necessary for him (Jesus) to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17-18, NLT).
“God made Jesus, who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might have right standing with God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “… if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21).
Why did Jesus have to die? Simply stated,
- He met the standard we could not meet. “He knew no sin”
- He paid the debt we could not pay. “He became sin for us”
- We can now have right standing before God through Him. “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”
See: The Gospel Song